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With McCutchen off to slow start, would Girardi use Bryce Harper as leadoff hitter?


Bryce Harper is in his third season with the Phillies. (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

Andrew McCutchen is off to an especially slow start for the Philadelphia Phillies, which at least makes you wonder what other alternatives the team has currently.

Let the record show, McCutchen has had slow starts before. In fact, the former National League MVP has a .244 career batting average in March/April, the lowest of any month. While Joe Girardi did stress the importance of McCutchen using all fields Friday afternoon, he seemed to think that the slow start for the five-time All-Star had more to do with the peaks and valleys of a 162-game season than any sort of bigger picture problem.

That said, a year ago, McCutchen posted an on-base percentage of .324, down 54 points from 2019. He did hit .318 in Grapefruit League play, but whatever was working in Clearwater hasn’t come north. In his first 36 at-bats of 2021, McCutchen has slashed just .139/.279/.278. While a player with his resume deserves the benefit of the doubt in a sense, he’s also 34 years old. The wheels have to begin to turn for the Phillies on who will lead off if McCutchen doesn’t return to form, or if he’s just a serviceable player not meant to lead off at this stage of his career.

One thing you probably won’t see, though, is Bryce Harper leading off anytime soon in Girardi’s lineup. Harper led off in eight games for Gabe Kapler in 2019, his first season on the Phillies. He did it 12 times during his final season with the Washington Nationals in 2018, as manager Dave Martinez attempted to curtail teams intentionally walking or pitching around him. All that said, Harper prefers to hit third, and Girardi tends to agree with him.

“Every at-bat, I would prefer that there’s a chance that he comes up with people on [base],” Girardi said of the idea of Harper at the top of the order. “So, that’s eliminating one of them. And usually if you’re hitting first, a lot of times the eighth and the ninth aren’t necessarily on base – they’ll pitch around the eighth to get to the ninth hitter, and you can [end up hitting] lead off a little bit more than just once a game. My preference there would be people on the bases when he’s up.”

Girardi would go on to agree with the idea that pitchers hitting again in 2021 makes it even less likely for Harper to lead off than it may have been a year ago. On top of that, the No. 8 hole has turned into a relatively automatic out early in the season as the Phillies have struggled to get much of anything out of the center field position.

Former No. 1 overall pick Mickey Moniak will make his first start of the season Friday night in center field against the St. Louis Cardinals. But although Girardi believes Moniak could eventually profile as someone capable of leading off, he doesn’t seem to believe he has any real alternatives to hit in the top spot currently.

“Right now, no,” Girardi said when asked whether anyone other than McCutchen or Matt Joyce fits the leadoff mold currently. “We have a number of guys that are kind of struggling in our lineup. Bryce has continued to pretty much get on at a pretty high clip. Seugy [Jean Segura] has been on, and Didi [Gregorius] is hitting near I think .300, but right now, I think overall our lineup is struggling a little bit. Is it a spot that Mickey could do some day in his career? I think that’s possible.”

Until some day comes, the Phillies best bet to rebound offensively after a disastrous road trip appears to be McCutchen heating up.

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